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Surviving Bed Rest

Until this point in your pregnancy, you've probably been going about your normal activities of work, chores at home, spending time with family and friends, and exercise. But one day, suddenly or perhaps planned in advance, your doctor tells you that for your health and the health of your baby, you'll be restricted to bed rest.

Even though your friends and family may envy you for what they see as a mini-vacation, don't be fooled — bed rest during pregnancy is no walk in the park. Fortunately, though, you can make your time in bed more enjoyable and productive. Here's how.

Doctor's Orders

Several situations might cause your doctor to recommend bed rest for some portion of your pregnancy. If your medical history, including previous pregnancies, might point to a medical complication, your doctor might recommend bed rest. Or, you might have symptoms, such as bleeding or contractions, that require you to go on bed rest.

Even if your medical history is clear and you experience no symptoms, your doctor may require bed rest if the results of a test or procedure indicate a medical complication or if your baby's growth is determined to be poor.

Common pregnancy complications that often result in bed rest include high blood pressure (including pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, and eclampsia), vaginal bleeding (including placenta previa), premature labor, and cervical changes (such as incompetent cervix and cervical effacement).

If you're having multiples, your pregnancy may be deemed high risk and require close monitoring by your doctor. If you develop any problems, your doctor might place you on bed rest. Bed rest might also be recommended if you've had previous pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, stillbirth, or a premature birth.

Just as every pregnancy is different, every woman's experience with bed rest is different. Some women may know early on that because of their medical histories, they will have to go on bed rest at some point in their pregnancies. Others might be surprised to hear their doctors announce, after a routine appointment, that they'll be on bed rest for a few weeks.

Some women are on bed rest early in their pregnancies and then released, whereas others spend their entire pregnancies confined to their beds. Your doctor will give you specific information about the duration of your bed rest.

How Does Bed Rest Help?

Women with pregnancy conditions related to high blood pressure may be placed on bed rest to decrease stress, both physical and emotional, with the hope of lowering their blood pressure. Vaginal bleeding can be aggravated by activity, lifting, or exercise, so bed rest also might be used to reduce bleeding. Women having premature labor and contractions also may be restricted because activity and stress can aggravate these conditions.

Depending on your circumstances, your doctor might ask you to lie on your side to facilitate blood flow to the placenta or to rest with your feet up and your back elevated.

What Can — and Can't — You Do on Bed Rest?

Sometimes, doctors recommend modified bed rest or "house arrest," which generally allows women to stay on the couch, bed, or in a sitting position, but restricts them from sexual intercourse, exercise, or lifting. Others might be told to remain in bed, only sitting up for meals or standing to take quick showers. Some women have to remain in bed in the hospital because their pregnancies require closer monitoring by a trained hospital staff.

Whatever kind of bed rest your doctor recommends, if it's long-term, you'll need to remember to exercise your legs to keep the blood circulating and prevent clots. Because every woman who experiences bed rest is different, be sure to get answers to these questions from your doctor:

  • Can I get up to use the bathroom?
  • Can I get up to prepare quick meals or to do light chores?
  • Can I take a bath or shower?
  • What position should I be in while I'm resting?
  • Can I go to work or work from home?
  • Is driving OK?
  • How much walking is safe?
  • How much and what kind of sexual activity is OK?
  • What activities can I do to increase blood circulation safely?

Tips for Surviving Bed Rest

Fortunately, you can make your bed rest enjoyable without becoming addicted to daytime TV. Try these tips:

Stick to a schedule. Even if you have to stay in bed all day, you'll feel better if you take care of yourself. After you wake up, change into comfortable clothes and plan what to do for the day. Having a plan will make you feel as if you're accomplishing something and will give you something to look forward to.

Catch up while you can. Let's face it, after the baby arrives, you'll be too busy to think about catching up on correspondence or reading your favorite author's latest novel. Try these time passers:

  • choose a doctor for your child, find quality child care, or write up a birth plan (if you haven't already done these things)
  • start a journal chronicling your pregnancy — and your bed rest
  • start a family tree that you can share with your child someday
  • firm up your baby-name choices; use books and websites for ideas
  • organize photo albums
  • read anything — newspapers, magazines, classic novels, the latest bestsellers, compilations of fiction or poetry; you could even revisit some of your favorite childhood stories or try out some books from the library for your little one
  • watch rented videos/DVDs or taped TV shows
  • answer letters or correspondence
  • write thank-you cards if you've already had a baby shower; if not, start addressing the envelopes to people (friends and family) whom you know will probably give gifts
  • build an email and phone list of people to call when the baby comes
  • start a calendar of important dates to remember (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
  • contact your job about your maternity-leave benefits
  • fill out health insurance paperwork for your baby in advance
  • designate a guardian for your child and have your lawyer draft a new will

Stock up. Just because you're on your back doesn't mean you have to be unprepared. You can fully stock your baby's nursery and layette by phone or the Internet. Order all the items you think you'll need for the first 3 months — including diapers! In addition to baby stores and centers, online drugstores often carry a wide variety of baby care items that they'll deliver right to your door.

Don't be afraid to ask visitors for assistance. Your friends and family would probably love to help you with household chores, errands, or meal preparation. Create a task list so that when someone offers help, you can assign a task. Visits from your friends and family can boost your spirits — just make sure you ask them to come at a time that's convenient and comfortable for you.

Become a parenting expert. Plenty of parenting books and websites can help to answer many of your parenting and children's health questions. If you feel uncomfortable reading about high-risk pregnancy issues, learn about breastfeeding or how to encourage your child's development instead. You could also get subscriptions to local and national parenting magazines and start clipping out useful articles and tips. File your clippings in folders (e.g., new baby care, feeding, crying, sleeping, safety, development, etc.) for future reference when the baby comes. Also file away any articles you print out from the Internet.

Seek out a support system. The Internet is a great place to find support from other moms on bed rest. Check out bed rest message boards and chat rooms, where you can share tips and get advice.

Support your support person. You're probably relying heavily on your spouse or partner to tend to household chores, child care, and errands during your bed rest. Make sure you take the time to show your appreciation — you can always order a nice gift by phone or online!

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: November 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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